Gordon Lee, the Georgia retailer who famously fought off charges of distributing materials harmful to minors, passed away Sunday following complications from a series of strokes. He was 54.
The popular owner of Legends in Rome, Georgia, Lee was arrested in 2004 after participating in a trick-or-treat event in which thousands of comics were given away for free. Among the books was Alternative Comics #2, which contained an excerpt from Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel The Salon depicting a nude Pablo Picasso in a non-sexual context. The comic accidentally was given to a minor, whose parents filed a complaint with the police. Although Lee acknowledged the mistake and offered to make a public apology, he was arrested and charged with two felony counts of distributing material depicting nudity or sexual content and five misdemeanor counts of unlawful disposition of materials to minors. Several of those counts didn't name victims.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund became involved with the case in early 2005, challenging the constitutionality of the law as well as the counts that didn't name victims. Subsequently, the felony charges and two misdemeanor counts were dropped. However, the case trudged on, with charges dropped and then refiled, hearings postponed and then, in November 2007, a mistrial was declared before opening statements could be finished. Finally, in April 2008, Lee's case was dismissed entirely.
"Gordon showed an admirable strength of character in my dealings with him," CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein said this morning in a statement. "He withstood not only the extreme stress of answering the false charges that local prosecutors brought against him, but a tide of negative public opinion in the comics community because of the allegations he faced. Gordon could have pleaded out at any moment, and saved himself and his family the pain of going through the legal process. He didn’t because he knew he was innocent of the charges he faced, and he wanted to fight back so other retailers didn’t need to face a case like his. In the end, he was vindicated — the charges were dropped, the tide of public opinion turned, and no other case like it has been brought against a retailer since then. But getting there took a great deal of personal strength. Our most sincere condolences go out to his family and friends.”